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Photograph by Stanley 0. Arthur The skimmer (Rynchops nigra) is perhaps the most interesting species breeding on the shell keys of Louisiana. Great bands of these solemnly dressed birds stalk gravely along the shell and then rise and wing away with a peculiar erratic flight, swinging here and there, and calling out monotonously. They are very conspicuous against the ground and show up plainly on the nest, but sometimes in flight the whole flock will disappear from view, for their wings are margined with white and may blend with the colors of the sky
Photograph by Alfred M. Bailey The young skimmer when crouching in the sands looks not unlike a young tern. It has the upper and lower mandibles of about the same length (compare with adult skimmer above). These birds nest in large colonies on all the "outside" islands of the Gulf Coast, choosing the exposed beaches as the proper place to deposit their three or four protectively mottled eggs in a mere scoop in the sand
OBSERVATIONS ON THE WATER BIRDS OF LOUISIANA
a few birds, but Buck thought other- Soon from afar I heard the echoing wise and proceeded to read the law to call of another flock of blue geese, a them. He said that he had been com- call from apparently all directions, missioned to "run-hell-out-of" anyone clear and resonant, carrying far across coming in there, and he was going to the waste lands. In the gray distance, do it. Under the circumstances, the vague, wavy forms appeared, great Vmen decided to leave the birds unmo- shaped masses, wedging their way surely lested.
and confidently with little V's trailIn the last few years I have observed ing from the ends of the first great a great increase in numbers of the band, and weaving shadowy, intricate wild fowl which swarm along the Gulf lines across the dim lit sky. Coast, and all the men living in that The answering calls of the birds on region say the same. In fact, the geese the ground made a perfect bedlam, as and ducks were in such hordes in 1917 flock after flock of calling birds circled that they inflicted serious loss on the out of the sky and joined the resting rice farms of Cameron Parish. The throng. There seemed to be from a ground was white with thousands dozen to fifteen flocks in a company, of snow geese, and clouds of ducks and as one company settled with milipoured into the fields. It is a sight tary precision, another company would that makes a bird lover happy-even swirl in out of the grayness, while still though the rice farmer does not ap- another great horde could be heard off preciate the beauty of it. The great in the distance. I watched this con"pastures" of the gulf, wide-stretching tinual arrival of geese for more than an prairies, are the feeding grounds of a hour, until it grew too dark to see, and multitude of blue geese, Canadas, and then I still lingered for the sheer joy of white-fronted geese.
I witnessed a hearing all those wild voices. flight of blue geese that I shall never In the morning I saw the birds as forget-and yet the old-timers of they were leaving for the day, and Louisiana say there are relatively only again they seemed to fly in great coma few of the blue geese left today. panies, their long V-shaped flocks trail
I rode on horseback late one after- ing across the sky as far as the eye noon to some fresh-water ponds near
could see. one of the Cheniers (an oak-grown These great flocks of blue geese asridge), and awaited the coming of the semble each winter on the widebirds to their evening resting place. stretching prairies and the burned salt Before my arrival, one flock of geese marshes along the Gulf Coast to feed had already settled, and I could hear on the tender shoots of the new grass. their calls a long time before the birds There are always a few white-headed came into view. When within one hun- patriarchs in the vast band which stand dred yards of this great decoy flock, I sentinel-like, and watch for possible dismounted and crawled along the edge disturbers. When alarmed the geese of the little pool where I could watch rise up in a cloud, like so many giganthem. Their white heads loomed up tic mosquitoes, and circle off a few conspicuously against the dark back- hundred yards. ground, the sprinkling of snow geese They feed during the day and at marking the size of the flock, so that night prefer to rest in the numerous I could tell how far it extended, even lagoons that dot the marshland. Each where I could no longer see the darker day great hordes arise from the feeding birds. They “talked” continually, and grounds, circle around, and then head moved about from one grassplot to for the shell banks to “gravel.” “Hell another.
Hole" is their favorite resort, and this
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny The blue geese (Chen cærulescens) are conspicuous among the waterfowl for their pure white heads. These geese breed in the Hudson Bay country and migrate to the southern United States during the winter months. Great flocks assemble each year along the Gulf Coast to feed on the ten. der shoots of the new grass and to “gravel" on the shell banks. The mouth of the Mississippi and the region around South West Pass of Vermilion Bay are the greatest blue goose sections of Louisiana
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny Occasionally the stock raisers of the western part of Louisiana complain that the geese injure their pasture lands, for these birds settle down in great flocks to guzzle in the mud, digging thousands of small lagoons across the fields. They are great "talkers" when flying in bands or when collected together at night, but a few white headed patriarchs always stand as sentinels to give an alarm at the approach of any intruder. The blue geese associate freely with ducks and other species of geese (especially the snow geese), from which they differ little in habits
Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) nest on the different islands along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, and the largest colony in the country is found on the "Mud Lumps” of the Mississippi Delta. Through the faint blue haze of the gulf one sees what appears to be wooded hills with an outspread city at their foot. On nearer approach this resolves itself into a fifteen-foot mound of mud and a row of pelicans. The soft mud underneath the tenacious river bottom of the Mississippi Delta forces up bumps in the latter and then bursts through as a mud "volcano," forming small mud islands.
The "lumps” most thickly inhabited by pelicans are found off the mouth of Pass á l'Outre, where at least 50,000 birds come each year to raise their young. The outermost islands are occupied first; then, as larger numbers of birds arrive, the islands toward the shore are gradually filled up, until finally all the islands are covered with families of awkward parents and downy white youngsters. Three chalk. white eggs are laid in a rather neatly made grass nest, although on some of the mud lumps which are devoid of vegetation the nests are merely a pile of sticks clumsily thrown together. The pelican nests are at times subject to raids by raccoons; in one instance nearly one thousand nests on Grand Cochere Island were destroyed by these animals in six weeks
Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny YOUNG ANHINGAS, OR "SNAKE BIRDS," AT HOME The anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) hide their nests in secluded spots directly over the water, frequently selecting the cypresses which abound in the swamps and ponds of Louisiana. The adult birds are wonderful divers and swimmers and when frightened tumble precipitously into the water. In fishing, the anhingas do not drop on to their prey, as do the gulls, for instance, but pursue their victim under the water as it tries to hasten out of harm's way. They swim under water for long distances with only the head and lithe neck above the surface, looking not unlike some strange water serpent-in fact, they are commonly known as "snake birds."
The young are covered for the first few weeks with a buff-colored down. They have the peculiar habit (as can be seen in the photograph) of drawing themselves up from the nest by placing their bills over a convenient branch or the edge of the nest. If the young are approached, they merely cling tenaciously to the nest, and when thrown into the water are quite helpless.
For the most part anhingas eat small fish, but they will take any of the small creatures of the ponds, even young alligators and small terrapins. The adults feed the young by regurgitation